You Had To Have Been Blind Not To Have Seen Obama's Bad Deal With The Republicans Coming Down The Pike
Last night-- technically this morning-- that last act in Boehner's little drama (or Boehner and Obama's little kabuki) played out when the House passed a stopgap appropriations motion while they implement The Deal.
The budget debate was fought entirely on GOP turf, shifting the “center” way over to the right. Indeed, for all the talk about conservatives wanting more out of this deal, the simple truth is that this battle was fought almost entirely on their terms. By agreeing to steep, if temporary, cuts in advance, Dems acceded to the GOP’s austerity/cut-cut-cut frame at the very outset, and the debate unfolded entirely on that rhetorical turf.
President Obama’s advisers apparently believe that his best route to reelection is to acknowledge the need for more fiscal discipline, while picking a fight with the GOP over the need for targeted government investment in our future and painting the GOP’s cut-at-all-costs vision as out of the mainstream. In fairness, his advisers, as Paul Krugman noted recently, may very well be right about this.
But it’s still worth appreciating how far to the right the debate has shifted, in part because of Democratic acquiescence. The idea that government spending should be a job-creation tool in our arsenal was entirely marginalized, to the point that it was simply not part of the discussions; meanwhile, the insane conservative demand for $100 billion in cuts was treated as a kind of outer right-wing boundary of legitimate discourse. The result: Giving Boehner more than he originally asked for in cuts became the stuff of middle ground compromise.
It passed 40 minutes late, 348-70. 208 Republicans plus 140 Democrats probably guaranteeing a double-dip recession. For 28 radical right nihilists-- your Bachmanns, Gohmerts, Brouns, Chaffetzes... Joe "You Lie" Wilson, that crowd-- the cutbacks weren't severe enough; they voted NO. 42 Democrats also voted NO. Like Anthony Weiner (D-NY).
And, as Digby just pointed out this morning, the process left the Republicans stronger and united, not downhearted and in disarray, the way the Democrats are. "The Tea Party," she writes, "is just another word for 'conservative Republican.' Boehner used them, they didn't use him. A good leader knows how to manage expectations and Boehner turns out to be very good at it. He came in with a low number, then 'capitulated' to his base and raised it over and over again. He couldn't quite come through on getting rid of funding for cervical cancer screening and birth control (Tea Party priorities, apparently) but promised to bring it up again and again in the endless budget battles to come. What's not to like? And this is enough to make them giddy-- and is, after all, the whole point: The agreement would cut about $38 billion from the 2010 budget baseline and $78.5 billion from President Obama's 2011 budget proposal."
The Democrats who voted against the kabuki-compromise, by and large, come from working class districts and represent working class sensibilities. Although trusted figures, like Donna Edwards (who represents a district with a higher proportion of government employees than any in the country) and Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Raúl Grijalva, voted to avert a shutdown, the 42 Democrats who voted against Obama felt they could not go along with the wrenching cuts and that giving in to Republican hostage-taking would just embolden them in the future in their battles to dismantle Social Security and Medicare. Tammy Baldwin represents Madison, Wisconsin, where the American spirit happens to be highest of anywhere in the country fright now. She voted NO. Before we look at the NO votes, here's Raúl's statement right after he voted YES:
“I was glad to get the call to cast this vote, and I’m glad the government will continue normal operations. A shutdown would do drastic, immediate damage to our national economy and federal work force. No amount of ideological posturing is worth the pain it would have caused, and Congress is right to pass this budget resolution.
This process has been marked by House Republicans’ refusal to negotiate in good faith, and our government should never be brought to the edge of a shutdown for partisan reasons. Rather than laying out a reasonable position and compromising for the good of the country, Speaker Boehner spent weeks posturing for the benefit of his Tea Party base and refused Democratic offers that went beyond his demands. Threatening hundreds of thousands of working Americans with furloughs to make a political point is not leadership. The country deserves more.
This kind of brinksmanship is hardly inspiring, and while I cast my vote tonight to keep the government running until next Thursday, I am reserving judgment on any longer-term deal until the full details emerge. I regret that this vote was not on a full six-month proposal, because short-term resolutions are a poor way to run a government. I look forward to a more reasonable conversation in the coming days about a long-term deal than the conversation that took place over this last week.”
New York City progressives didn't see it the same way. Joining Weiner were Eliot Engel, Yvette Clarke, Carolyn Maloney, Greg Meeks, Jerry Nadler, Charlie Rangel, José Serrano and Edolphus Towns, a cross section of the base Obama has completely abandoned. Other high profile progressives voting NO included John Lewis, Dennis Kucinich, Barney Frank, Barbara Lee, George Miller, John Larson (Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus), Jim McDermott, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Mike Capuano... a pantheon of progressive superstars. And Jackson was only one of the Chicago congressmen voting against Obama's ill-defined strategy of appeasement. Bobby Rush and Luis Guitierrez couldn't stick with him this time. Many of the Represenetatives who voted NO, did some with some reluctance. Brooklyn's Yvette Clarke sounded downright conflicted in her official statement:
“I applaud Senate Leader Harry Reid and President Obama for their perseverance and unyielding resolve to make sure that a deal was reached. However, after reviewing the bill that was passed by the Senate, there are some cuts in this legislation that negatively impact my constituents. It would be irresponsible for me to vote for this bill.
“I think that it is important to point out that the long and arduous process of getting to this agreement, unfortunately, is only a foreshadowing of the many fights that lie ahead as we move forward to address our nation’s budget deficit. I will continue to fight to ensure that Congress can get on with the work of the American people and focus on jobs.”
I watched Eliot Engel on CNN last night explaining that he couldn't vote for the compromise. I can't find a clip of it but here's the statement from his website:
The Republicans insist on arbitrarily cutting the budget in the mistaken belief this will magically boost the economy. I cannot support this agreement because $39 billion in cuts is too deep. Well, I don’t believe in the tooth fairy, and I don’t believe in magic either. They give no factual basis that these cuts will do anything but harm the economy. Coming at a time when our economy is so fragile, cuts of this magnitude will have an adverse effect on job creation.
We didn’t get into this deficit hole overnight, and it’s wrong to think we can get out of it just as quickly. In the 12 years they controlled the Congress, six of which they also controlled the Presidency, they ran up massive deficits with huge tax breaks for corporations and the wealthiest Americans. Today, they have reversed course and become born-again deficit hawks. We must work together to get out of the hole that both parties dug us into. No one can take a "no compromise" approach to fixing our fiscal problems. I understand that, and want to work together to get it done.
But tonight’s spending bill slashes too much without taking into account the harm this will do to our fragile recovery, to the middle class, to working people, and to our neediest citizens. I cannot support such a measure. While it is beneficial to avoid a government shutdown, a deal for the sake of making a deal is often a bad one. The one good thing about this agreement is that it includes provisions to pay our military and their families. They make many sacrifices for their country, this should not be one of them.
Barbara Lee made a similar statement a few minutes ago:
"I am relieved that a government shutdown was averted tonight, but I am disappointed with the continued Republican efforts to strip funding for critical programs and services that millions of people depend on. Republicans want to finance their unpaid-for tax breaks for the wealthy on the backs of our most vulnerable populations and underserved communities. I cannot support this continuing resolution that will negatively impact millions of our most vulnerable populations: low- and middle-income people, the needy and the poor.
"It is also extremely disappointing that Republicans took our government to the brink of a costly shutdown all for the sake of preventing women from accessing critical health services like breast exams, prenatal care and birth control. Republicans should stop trying to block women from getting the health care that they need and work with Democrats to craft a common-sense bill to fund our government.
"As an appropriator, I will work to restore these egregious Republican cuts so that we have a budget that creates jobs, fosters new economic opportunities and provides pathways out of poverty."
The cuts are egregious but are they Republican? What makes them Republican when Obama was celebrating them and when almost all the Democrats voted for them? Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben treads where Barbara can't: Our Lives Are Under Threat From Some of the Most Powerful and Richest Entities -- Here's How We Can Fight Back and Win. "We need to rebuild the kind of mass movement that marked 1970: bodies, passion, and creativity are the currencies we can compete in. It's not impossible." I wonder if the billions being taken out of the budget will include the billions the U.S. taxpayers are supposed to guarantee Tokyo Electric Power to build a couple of nuclear plants in Texas. Greg Palast: "The Administration, just months ago, asked Congress to provide a $4 billion loan guarantee for two new nuclear reactors to be built and operated on the Gulf Coast of Texas-- by Tokyo Electric Power and local partners. As if the Gulf hasn't suffered enough... Now be afraid. Obama's $4 billion bail-out-in-the-making is called the South Texas Project. It's been sold as a red-white-and-blue way to make power domestically with a reactor from Westinghouse, a great American brand. However, the reactor will be made substantially in Japan by the company that bought the US brand name, Westinghouse-- Toshiba... The Obama Administration is planning a total of $56 billion in loans for nuclear reactors all over America."